When reviewing this list, please don't think the order they are listed in matters. As far as I am concerned, they are all equal. If I missed anything or anyone, please add them by posting them as responses.
I am thankful for....
- Helene Gregory's persistence in getting Racing Under Saddle (RUS) revived in the United States and North America. This time it appears it is going to stick thanks to the support of so many individuals, companies, and racetracks, too many to list who provided horses, sponsorship money for purses, and otherwise support the effort. Look for RUS to return in 2013 even better than this past year.
- Sam Landy and his Open Space Pace committee who in the face of an enormously discouraged NJ racing industry put on the Open Space Pace Day at Freehold Raceway, an event that raised awareness of the vital importance of harness racing to the agricultural economy of NJ. The day included an equine parade down Main Street in Freehold, exhibitions all day at the track by equines of every sort – from Renaissance jousting to under saddle races, celebrities, a concert by Southside Johnny and more than $10,000 given out to harness racing or agricultural related charities and programs. The vent brought several thousand people who had never been to the track before to harness racing in the most positive light possible. Here’s a video example. Racing should be thankful that there are individuals like Sam Landy and Peter Grandich whose passion for racing caused them to take such positive action instead of sitting around bemoaning their fate.
- Ray Cotolo. Not too many sportswriters decide to become involved with harness racing but there was Ray, writing press releases at The Red Mile for the Grand Circuit meet. What makes it special is this scribe has started his career at the age of thirteen. Someone needs to get him membership in the USHWA.
- The various racetracks which were good corporate citizens in supporting recovery efforts with regards to Super storm Sandy. This makes two years running that severe weather hit on October 29-30. Perhaps tracks on the east coast would be smart to make these days dark in 2013 and avoid all the confusion.
- The Delaware County Fair which each year converts the Coliseum and Annex where the Blooded Horse Sale is held into a collection center for PIN (People In Need). Through PIN's efforts, hundreds of needy families county-wide receive food, clothing, toys and basic household needs just before Christmas. The use of the facility is donated by the fair and with the exception of PIN's director, all the work is done by volunteers. A fine job they do as each year they do better than the last.
- Harness racing's Heather Moffett and Susan Ehlers for participating in the Polar Mare Plunge, a publicity event to raise awareness and funds for Wells for Ghana. Okay, the plunge took place at the end of March but the water is still cold. I can't wait to see what Heather comes up with next.
- Speaking of Wells for Ghana, we are particularly thankful for owner Ken Wood who puts his money where his mouth is by using purse money earned by his horses for the benefit of his charity.
- Jeff Gural for his philanthropy the donations made from his own pocket, publicly and privately. It is always nice to hear about those who are financially blessed making donations to make their community a better place.
- All those horse rescues working to find racing's equine retirees a new home when their careers are done. Trust me, it is a labor of love, especially considering how hard it is to fund raise these days.
- Those horsemen who do the right things for the horses. To name just two, Jodie Ann Doherty and Wendi Wiener who run defacto horse rescues single handily, working to place retired race horses on their own, not just horses they own or train. Doing all this, on their own dime without the benefit of donations. Then there is Frank Azur, a person who steps up to the plate and quietly and without fanfare reaches deep into his pockets to keep racehorses from slaughter.
- The Handicappers who participated in HANA Harness' The Pen vs. The Chip Handicapping Challenge. Committing to handicapping over 700 races over sixty-three race cards is quite a commitment and we are thankful for the team of handicappers (Scott Alberg, Matt Keller, Mark McKelvie, Robert Pandalfo, Earl Paulson, Ray Schell, David Siegel of Trackmaster, and Bob Zanakis) who persevered through the grueling schedule for the benefit of horse rescues. Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the sponsors (Hambletonian Society, Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs, Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, Grand River Raceway, Harrington Raceway, The Gold Cup and Saucer, Indiana Downs, Little Brown Jug, Woodbine Entertainment Group, and HANA) for providing the financial support to make it all happen.
- For the aged pacing and trotting divisions. While everyone gets all worked up about the glamour division, give me the battle tested veterans. They really put on the great racing week in and week out. A special shout out to Foiled Again – year after year he represents the very best characteristics of a racehorse. He’s truly harness racing’s “War Horse” and I look forward to every week that he races.
- For the Kentucky Horse Park being the new home for Won The West, who joins Western Dreamer, Staying Together, and Mr. Muscleman in retirement. I wish I spoke horse because there must be some interesting war stories being told between the four of them.
- While thankful for all the Publicity Directors, John Manzi of Monticello Raceway deserves special mention. Not only does John find a story every day of racing at the Catskill Mountains racetrack, he also finds the time to do publicity for the CKG Billings series, Historic Track, Monticello Goshen Chapter of the USHWA, and NAADA. I wouldn't be surprised if I am missing some other group he does publicity for.
Lastly, the Racing, Medication & Testing Consortium which has spent 10 long, tedious, unglamorous years trying get the racing industry to uniform medication policies, as in model rules, withdrawal times and penalties adopted by every racing commission in the U.S. to insure the fairness and integrity of racing and the safety and health of the racehorse. Could there be a more impossible task? Sisyphus himself would have rejected it as unachievable. Yet the progress the board has made in 10 years has truly been enormous, and I shudder to think what the state of the industry would look like today without their work. They just got a new dynamic director in Dr. Dionne Benson and I expect her to roll that rock to the top of the hill very soon.
Everyone have a great Thanksgiving.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. If you are looking for harness racing action tomorrow, you need to look north of the border. Standardbred tracks in Canada racing on Turkey Day are: Kawartha Downs (7:00pm), Rideau Carleton Raceway (6:30pm), and Woodbine Racetrack (special post time of 7:00pm). TVG will be providing coverage of the Woodbine program which should do well being they are the only track scheduled for live coverage by the racing network.
If you're off on Black Friday and are brave enough to take to the roads, the following tracks will be racing Friday afternoon: Freehold Raceway (12:30pm), Plainridge Racecourse (1:00pm), and Scarborough Downs (12:05pm). Of course, there will be the usual assortment of tracks racing on Friday evening.
For those who like to look ahead, Cal Expo is being offered a rare opportunity to race in the afternoon on Friday, December 21 thru Sunday, December 23 at 2:35pm (local time). The opportunity to race in the afternoon was made possible by the decision of North and South California thoroughbred tracks to be dark those days.